The Athenaeum, St George`s Place (renamed Nelson Mandela Place) off Buchanan Street, Glasgow
Later - The Athenaeum Theatre, Buchanan Street.
Later - The New Athenaeum Theatre,
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 100, Renfrew Street, Glasgow
Above - The 1893 Athenaeum extension through to Buchanan Street, as shown in The Builder Magazine - Courtesy Graeme Smith who says 'This was designed by Sir John Burnet and incorporates the new Athenaeum Theatre.'
The Glasgow Athenaeum started in 1847 in the Assembly Rooms, Ingram Street, the inaugural address being given by Charles Dickens.
In 1887 it moved from the Assembly Rooms, which were then demolished, to new premises in St George`s Place, off Buchanan Street. The new building was designed by John Burnet senior and is where the Athenaeum`s School of Music eventually became a separate company (later known as the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, (RSAMD, today the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) after merging with the city`s College of Dramatic Art.).
The Gateway to Archives of Scottish Higher Education describes the early years: The Glasgow Athenaeum originally sought to provide, not only commercial skills, but also philosophy, literature, languages and music. Its initial membership was 1,612 and the first educational classes were in English grammar and literature, logic, French and German and soon after mathematics, elocution and Italian.
Left - The 1887 Athenaeum,
St George`s Place, Glasgow in the 1960s - Courtesy Graeme
Smith who says 'In the 1890s
the complex was considerably expanded behind the original building and
connecting through to Buchanan Street. The building today continues
as commercial offices.'
Over the years other classes were introduced, for example, shorthand in 1872. Classes in music were taken by the choirmaster, W. H. Lithgow and a philharmonic society was formed within a couple of years. Instrumental instruction followed soon after and a dramatic club was flourishing from 1886 presided over by Walter Baynham. Following the cessation of commercial teaching in 1888, however, the institution concentrated on music, headed by Principal Allan Macbeth.
The Athenaeum had a library, news room, club rooms and classrooms as well as its auditorium. Ladies, Gentlemen and apprentices could be members and it was the first Ladies Club in the city. Its Concert Hall Theatre staged a range of plays and concerts but was replaced when the Athenaeum continued to expand, this time round the corner into Buchanan Street. The old building continues today as commercial offices behind the facade.
Student productions increased as did plays and musicals by professional and amateur companies. It accommodated 800 on a small site. In 1943 it was the birthplace and home of the new Citizens Theatre company founded by Tom Honeyman and James Bridie, which continued there until the Royal Princess`s Theatre was offered in Gorbals.
When the RSAMD moved in 1987-88 to its current premises in Renfrew Street its old 1893 Athenaeum, which is a Category A listed building, was used for a time by the Scottish Youth Theatre company until eventually a new commercial use was found for the building.
Above - The auditorium of the 1987 Athenaeum Theatre - With kind permission, the RSAMD. Photo © K.K. Dundas, RSAMD.
Inside today`s RSAMD, designed by Sir Leslie Martin and William Nimmo & Partners, is the New Athenaeum Theatre which very comfortably showcases drama, opera and pantomime.
Two superb, and rare, photographs of the Atheneaum`s very modern interior, as built in 1893, can be seen by following the links below. Firstly a view of the stage from the rear circle, taken by Ian Grundy in 1993 here. And a view towards the top of the circle here. The building is now operating as the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant, bar and function venue. A series of photographs showing the excellent theatre features retained in the building today as The Hard Rock Cafe can be seen here.
Right - A photograph of the former Athenaeum Theatre extension through to Buchanan Street today - Courtesy Graeme Smith.
In the modern day photograph shown right, the red sandstone building is the Glasgow Liberal Club built in 1909 at the corner of Buchanan Street and St George`s Place/Nelson Mandela Place. In 1929 the three buildings comprising the original Athenaeum, Liberal Club and Buchanan Street extension totalled the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, before moving in 1988 to new premises in Renfrew Street. The scale of the enlarged Athenaeum complex can be seen here.
Further details about the Theatre are contained in the Scottish Cinemas
The text on this page was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on the site in August 2009, and is from his new book on the Alhambra Theatre, a sequel to his book on 'THE THEATRE ROYAL: Entertaining a Nation', Details here...
If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.
You may find the following pages from this site of interest: